Article One of the Series
Ismailis within the Muslim Ummah
Islam: General Introduction
The last in the line of the Abrahamic family of revealed traditions, Islam emerged in the early decades of the seventh century. Its message, addressed in perpetuity, calls upon a people that are wise, a people of reason, to seek in their daily life, in the rhythm of nature, in the ordering of the universe, in their own selves, in the very diversity of humankind, signs that point to the Creator and Sustainer of all creation, Who alone is worthy of their submission.* It was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) in Arabia from where its influence spread rapidly and strongly, bringing within its fold, in just over a century after its birth, inhabitants of the lands stretching from the central regions of Asia to the Iberian peninsula in Europe. A major world religion, Islam today counts a quarter of the globe’s population among its adherents, bound to their faith by the affirmation of the witness that there is no divinity except God, and Muhammad is His messenger.
Muslims are those who submit to God. They are a community of the middle path, of balance, which is taught to avoid extremes, to enjoin good and forbid evil, using the best of arguments. Such a community eschews compulsion, leaves each to their own faith and encourages all to vie for goodness: it is the nobility of conduct which endears one in the sight of God. In its pristine sense, Islam refers to the inner struggle of the individual, waged singly and in consonance with fellow believers, to engage in earthly life, and yet, to rise above its trappings in search of the Divine. But that quest is only meaningful in tandem with the effort to do good for the kin, the orphan, the needy, the vulnerable; to be just, honest, humble, tolerant and forgiving.**
The spiritual dimension of Islam varies from individual to individual according to their inner capacities as conditioned by the external environment. Equally in the collective domain, a divergence of views has persisted, since the demise of the Prophet, among the pious and the learned, on what constitutes the best community. The very comprehensiveness of the vision of Islam, as it has unfolded over time and in a multiplicity of cultures, has rendered a monolithic conception of the ideal society difficult. Nevertheless, whatever the cultural milieu in which Islam takes root, its central impulse of submission to the Divine translates into patterns of lifeways and acts of devotion, which impart a palpable impress of an Islamic piety to whichever spheres Muslims occupy.
….to be continued.